Wednesday, February 27

Review: ToeJam & Earl - Back in the Groove [Nintendo Switch eShop]


I’m a big fan of games that dare to be themselves, and even if that can make them hard to play without saying “WTF?” with some regularity I can respect having a vision and sticking to it. While I never owned a Genesis, and thus missed out on the original ToeJam & Earl way back when, I’m well aware the game has a serious fan base and have always understood it was determined to be unique. Not quite sure what to expect with this new successor to that original, Back in the Groove, I think I’m still trying to fully process what it was I was playing, but I can also understand what people find appealing about it.


Trying to specifically describe in words how Back in the Groove plays would be a challenge, mainly because while it has elements that may feel familiar in places it is all joined together with random silliness and perhaps a touch of chemically-induced inspiration. Calling it weird would be an understatement. Your base goal is to explore a series of levels, many of which have unique themes, in search of parts to your spaceship. Along the way you’ll be checking a lot of bushes, trying to avoid a wide variety of odd characters, and picking up and then opening gifts that won’t always be helpful. Trial and error thus plays a pretty substantial part in things as until you discover what certain NPCs or gifts do you won’t know how to deal with them.


Playing as either of the title characters, either in their newfangled or classic looks, or one of their gal pals you (and up to 3 friends as well if you’d like for some truly chaotic gameplay) will notice some differences in each of them though once you’ve leveled up a few times they end up being more about your personal taste. Hidden areas and secret levels are peppered all about, as well as odd mini games like when you have a dance challenge with someone you’ll meet along the way. There’s a distinct lack of a strict structure and the emphasis is far more on exploring and having fun than strictly executing some plan to perfection.


This is very much a title where you’ll either choose to embrace the funkiness and odd pacing for how unique they are or you’ll probably have strong negative feelings about it. It’s not quite like anything else you’ve likely played but at the same time there may be a good reason for that since it can feel very random at times, focused more on its gags and weirdness than on compelling gameplay. I actually am finding it very difficult to score as where there’s normally some sort of standard to evaluate against with this title it’s just so far out there that it defies comparison. If you’re a fan of the original it’s absolutely worth checking out, beyond that you’ll just need to take a look at the gameplay and see if the game’s pacing and sense of humor suit you.


Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • Absolutely a unique experience
  • Full of oddities and humor
  • Every time you play things will be a bit different

Cons:
  • The focus isn’t so much on objectives and being challenging and is instead on being quirky and often silly
  • There’s a lot of trial and error as not much is explained, though most of the time things end up being intuitive
  • Though the gags and specifics may change it doesn’t take too long before things begin to feel very similar throughout